Tag Archives: Don Pasquale

Enjoyable Don Pasquale

30 Jul

Glyndebourne’s Don Pasquale has returned for its fourth run – twice on tour and, now, twice the Festival. I saw the latest run on 30th July.

Mariame Clement’s production, backdated to a Chardin-ish 18th century is a cynical piece of work.  Malatesta is clearly having an affair with Norina and will also continue to do so after the marriage with Norina (unlike previous incarnations, she no longer runs off with him at the end).  I found myself disliking it very much at its last outing on the tour.  It didn’t seem so bad here – though I find the idea of Malatesta and Norina going into a bathtub pretty fully clothed a bit unlikely.   I’m not sure about the chorus as an audience.  Bits and pieces have been changed but, at this run, it seemed to get the piece generally about right – a cynical comedy where nobody comes out particularly well.  It’s clearly been built for the tour rather than the festival but the acting is strong and the performance held its own.  The audience enjoyed itself.

The cast was adequate.  Renato Girolami acts Pasquale rather well, though not quite Corbelli.  Vocally, he sounded under-powered but put the words across pretty well.  Andrew Stenson as Ernesto did a perfectly decent job but I can’t particularly imagine wanting to hear him in anything else. Andrey Zhilikhovsky acted a nasty, sinister, sexy Malatesta and sang pretty strongly.  It’s not the largest or most beautiful of voices, but he made a stylish Malatesta who certainly held the stage as the manipulator.

He was matched by Lisette Oropesa as Norina.  She struck me as having the biggest personality and a really attractive voice that was pretty much ideal for the role.  She sang very stylishly and gave a lot of pleasure with accurate coloratura and strong pointing of the words.  I’m not sure that she made Norina a particularly sympathetic character, but she probably isn’t.

Giacomo Sagripanti conducted an alert, performance.  The chorus was in splendid form and so was the LPO.  The performance zipped along at just the right speed and there was no question that I was watching one of the finest Italian comic operas even if I could imagine performances which were vocally a bit more accomplished and productions a bit less cynical.  It’s worth a visit.

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Complex Pasquale

3 Nov

Glyndebourne has a wonderful policy of charging £10 for children’s tickets to some performances of its tour. This year it was Don Pasquale and, again, I took my eleven-year old niece to see it on 28th October.  It’s always interesting to try to imagine how the person next to you is seeing it and to watch the reaction.

I became aware first that, for all that it’s a comedy, Don Pasquale isn’t as easy an opera for an 11 year old to follow as Traviata and, second, that Mariame Clément’s sophisticated production here actually complicates the opera, possibly unnecessarily. My niece was puzzled by the relationships and the fact that Malatesta and Norina appeared to be sharing a bath at the end of scene two didn’t make it easier. Although Malatesta and Norina didn’t actually run off together at the end as they used to, there was still a very definite chemistry between them. I don’t think Donizetti necessarily had that in mind and I tend to think that this opera is quite nasty enough without adding that complication. Similarly, I’m not sure that having the chorus as an eighteenth century audience – glorious though it looks – necessarily helps you understand what’s going on. It’s a clever, interesting one-off version of the piece, but I don’t think I want to see it again.  Having said that, I think my niece enjoyed it and liked the music.

It was well rehearsed by Paul Higgins and had a cracking cast. The discovery for me was José Fardilha as Pasquale. Here is a gentle, dry ideal buffo voice who handles the words with confidence, ideal style. And he can act. He gives Corbelli and Pratico as serious run for their money and I’d love to see him do more of this sort of repertory.

Eliana Pretorian made a strong, rather nasty Norina singing with great style and accuracy – again, a very promising performance in this repertory. Tuomas Katajala made a very nice Ernesto – a nice, reedy tone that works really well in this role and he acted engagingly. John Brancy also has a very strong, baritone and good presence for Malatesta. He’d be a very could Count in Figaro or Don Giovanni. They made a strong ensemble, voices blending well and with nice alert, convincing performances.

Duncan Ward conducted. I found his overture a bit cautious – lacking the speed and exhilarating fizz that it ought to have. After that, he struck me as conducting considerately to his singers, with nice style. It was a promising debut. The orchestra was very decent indeed and the chorus a great deal better than that.

A good quality evening and I enjoyed hearing one of my favourite operas again even if I think that the Clément production can probably be retired.

Elegant Pasquale rounds off Glyndebourne 2013

25 Aug

I think Don Pasquale is probably the summit of pre-Falstaff Italian comic opera (excluding, of course, those by Mozart).  I love Rossini’s comedies and, of course, Elisir and Fille du Régiment, but with its small cast, brilliantly concise libretto and an unerring mixture of brilliance, cynicism and sentiment.  Donizetti distills all the tradition into as perfect a light comedy as you could want.  Musically, it may not have an aria as winning a Una furtiva lagrima but the characterisaton of the different characters is outstanding, the finale to Act II is a complete joy and has anyone written a more brilliant chorus than the servants’ chorus in Act III?

It seems to be quite a difficult piece to do well.  I didn’t much enjoy Jonathan Miller’s Royal Opera House production, with characters dwarfed by a huge dolls’ house of a set.   The last ENO/Opera North version was just horrible – a case of someone trying too hard to put the opera across in a large house.  It’s actually a piece that needs a small, intimate house, where the singers can simply play the show – one of the best I ever saw was a touring production the WNO did in the 1990s (Rebecca Evans as Norina) where an alert, well-rehearsed cast got on with the show with the minimum of gimmicks and the maximum of intelligence.

I saw Mariame Clément’s production when it was toured in 2011.  She moved the setting back a hundred years to the world of Laclos and Marivaux – a world of cynicism and artificiality which, on the whole, works pretty well.  A revolve enables different locations and the costumes, largely black and white, turn brilliant as Norina starts to have fun.  She has revised it slightly since then.  When it was new, Malatesta and Norina went off with each other at the end – her Norina stays with Ernesto, I think rightly.  There are some doubts: the chorus is an elegant 18th Century audience who comment rather than take part – it works, but does the revolve throughout the servants’ chorus distract from the sheer brilliance of that music: it’s difficult to concentrate fully on them if other things are happening on stage.  The sets were built for the tour and they look a bit cheap and small-scale for the main house, but rather that than the sort of sets that are really the star of the show.

Overall, however, the performance I saw on 24th August (the last of the run) was hugely enjoyable.  The house is the right size for the piece, the direction concentrates on acting and characterisation.  The characters know what they are doing, move elegantly and communicate with each other and us. I hope that Clément can return.

The leading roles have been recast and, overall, this was a very nice cast indeed.  Alessandro Corbelli is already one of the great Pasquales and it is wonderful to see someone get the role so effortlessly right.  He creates a pompous, fussy character but the joy is in watching his superbly mobile face.  He listens and registers every emotion and thought – you can see Pasquale thinking – and he does this without exaggeration, with undertstatement and perfect timing.  His voice may not be the largest or most grateful of instruments, but his enunciation is outstanding and he sings with complete understanding of the style.  He gave a hugely enjoyable masterclass on how to play the role.

Daniele di Niese, predictably, was a lovely Norina.  I thought her first aria a bit tentative, but she warmed up and had a marvellous time as the disguised Sophronia.  She is a star and is simply one of the most watchable sopranos I know.  The scenes between her and Pasquale were a complete delight.

Nikolay Borchev was Malatesta – his baritone sounds good in this music and he sang with elegance and acted alertly, not stealing the show from the others, but acting as a strong foil.  He’ll be welcome back.

Alek Shrader was ill so we had Alessandro Scotto di Luzio as Ernesto.  As ever at Glyndebourne, he was well rehearsed and showed no signs of any uncertainty in his acting.  Vocally, he has a nice, sappy tenor that suits this music well.  He was tested beyond his limits, however, during the high lying parts of the role – the end of the Act II aria simply didn’t have the confidence that it needed.  He sang the words well and interacted well with the other characters.

The chorus were excellent and the LPO seemed to appreciate Enrique Mazzola’s conducting hugely.  I enjoyed it as well – zippy, at one with the direction and with just the right sentimental elegance that this piece requires.

And elegance is the word that really sums up this evening.  I’ve been to funnier Pasquales and some with showier singing but few which got closer to what this opera is about.  We left with a smile.

It’s been a pretty good season.